Tag Archives: socialising

My First Day at School by Me, age 44 ¾

The Loneliness of the School Playground

The Loneliness of the School Playground

So much is written about a child’s first day at school, and rightly so, but it can be easily forgotten that it may also be mum and dad’s first day at school for a long time. Decades in our case (well, technically only a few months for me, but I’m not counting education as an adult because it’s so different).

And it can be just as nerve-wracking for us.

Children will have their own concerns. Will they see their friends? Will they make new ones? What if they’re the only ones struggling with the buttons on their coats or putting their wellies on the wrong feet? Will their teachers be nice to them or will they keep telling them off?

In Motormouth’s case he was, oddly, really worried about being bitten by one of the other children.

And it’s only right that we are there to reassure them, to give them a comforting cuddle before we say goodbye to them in the classroom doorway, or that wave to remind them they need to put their book bag away in their drawer so it won’t get lost.

But who is there to reassure us? Especially those of us who are, like me, a bit of an introvert?

I mentioned this to the Other Half, who struggled to understand why I was so worried, everyone was in the same boat weren’t they? This from the man who is on first name terms with half the parents already after just a week or so. I know two grandparents by sight, one mum and one dad. No names have been exchanged yet. This is even with the supposed advantage I have of having picked Motormouth up more often from school than the Other Half.

He’s not an introvert. The Other Half that is.

Or Motormouth, come to think of it.

I am.

I’m hoping I’m not the only one who pulls out my phone to answer imaginary texts that are so time-sensitive I have to ignore the world around me. I’m the one who stands in the corner towards the back of the playground so Motormouth knows where to look for me as he files obediently out of the classroom with 30 other children, all looking identical, with grins lighting up their faces as they see parent or grandparent waiting to hear all about their day. (What did you do today son? Nothing.)

I’m the one watching, with my hazel eyes just a bit greener than usual, as little knots of parents form, talking about their kids. I tell myself it’s just because their kids have been to the same playgroup or they live in the same road. I tell myself that it’s not a clique really, and I ought to be brave enough to say hello and join the group.

I’m not very good at listening to myself.

Perhaps it’s made worse by the fact that it’s a village school. Most of the children live in the village. We don’t. We chose it because it’s a good school with good inspection reports and the parents of children who have been there told us the school worked for them. That their children were happy there and learned a lot.

I’m telling myself to start just one conversation with somebody where I exchange names with someone. Hopefully it won’t be someone who is just doing the school drop off as a temporary measure, someone who will be absent from the playground forever in just a few weeks.

Then I look at Motormouth as he runs around the playground, part of an endlessly changing group of children who tag each other, stopping for a quick dinosaur impression here and there.

That’s when I think again, I’m not the one who matters. In the big picture, the one that’s a portrait of Motormouth, he’s the one who needs to feel comfortable coming to school. To feel that he has to make the most of those few minutes before the classroom doors open or we start to trail out of the gate towards home. To cram in as much as he can before he enters the more ordered world of the classroom.

In the meantime, I’ll stand there, one of maybe half a dozen parents who aren’t engrossed in conversation with other parents. One of those grown ups who switch their attention from their phone and whatever random question they’ve put into their search engine of choice, as the classroom door opens and children start to emerge, clutching their water bottles and book bags.

I’ll wait for him, for his face to light up when he sees me, just before he pulls a clown face and jumps around. I suspect he’s slightly embarrassed by the attention.

I should go now. I don’t want to lose my spot in the corner.

T is for Teacher

T is for Teaching

T is for Teaching

Where do I start with this? Or rather, where does it start for us?

From Day 1.

When that precious, noisy little bundle first arrives she’s working on instinct alone – rooting to find a nipple, crying when she wants to communicate something. She doesn’t even know that she’s a person in her own right yet, let alone that you are an individual and might have your own needs (like a trip to the loo).

And it can continue like that for months or years as she slowly develops the understanding and cognitive processes that allow her to see the difference.

And all the time, we’re teaching her.

Often without realising what we’re doing.

When we’re talking to her, knowing she won’t understand a word we’re saying, we’re teaching her about speech patterns, rhythms and waiting her turn to speak. When we’re helping her stack blocks or fill water containers, we’re teaching her to think in three dimensions and that although things might not look the same, they are. Three blocks stacked up are still three blocks when they’re in a row. We teach her her first words when she watches us point to things and name them.

She’ll still choose whichever word she wants for her first. I’m reliably informed that harder consonants are easier to form than soft, which is why babies are more likely to have “daddy” as their first word (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway).

I suppose that would also explain Motormouth’s second word being beer…

Then there are the less tangible concepts we have to teach them. How to be nice to someone, what good manners are or why they should share. It’s easy to do that isn’t it? We just teach them to go through the steps, and help them develop the understanding whilst they keep repeating the actions.

But is it really that easy?

We already know that our children learn by copying. That’s how they’ve learned pretty much everything that way so far.

So what about the times when our own application of the standards slip? When we forget to say thank you, or we push into a queue (yep, showing Englishness here)? How about being patient when we’re trying to get everyone out of the door on time in the morning?

They follow our example.

And it can be really tiring setting an example all the time.

Is there a solution?

Yes.

We just have to teach them that no-one’s perfect, that we all make mistakes, and even the nicest person can be grumpy and impatient at times.

That people are fallible and we should give them some leeway.

And that has to be the hardest lesson of all since we’re all (or certainly I’m still) learning to understand that as an adult.

F is for Fun

 

F is for Fun

F is for Fun

It’s a bit sad that by the time we’ve become adults we seem to have lost the ability to have simple, spontaneous fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I for one still have fun as an adult, but I have discovered that there’s a whole forgotten world that opens up when you have children and you can indulge yourself in it without guilt.

In fact, it’s practically the law.

(This is the point where I’m hoping I’m not the only one who is quite prepared to make a fool of herself in public by running round the park waving her arms and screaming “I’m a monster”. Please tell me I’m not.)

Just think of all those things that you would really like to do but don’t because you’re too grown up?

Building walls out of brightly coloured blocks or cushions and having imaginary tea parties (and yes it is perfectly acceptable for a grown man to wear a sparkly pink tiara). Or pretending the bed is a ship on a stormy sea (watch out for the sharks!).

Then there’s the outdoors. Going down slides, or playing on the swings (and isn’t it scandalous how they’ve made everything narrower since we were kids?).

Or jumping on trampolines (have to be a bit careful here, since this is where you really find out if you did enough pelvic floor exercises after the baby arrived).

Getting messy finger painting or covered in glitter and glue.

Or, my personal favourite, jumping in muddy puddles. Motormouth and I indulged in this on the way home from the childminder’s once (Mini was safely in the care of the Other Half) and in the space of a ten minute walk we both got soaked. In his case up to the armpits. I got away a little more lightly and just got wet up to the knees.

But guess what?

It was so liberating not to worry about getting messy. Or being back by a certain time. Or being clean enough to go to playgroup, shopping or to see the grandparents.

Of course we can’t play all the time. That would be silly, but those few occasions where we can forget about being the responsible adult and just enjoy playing? And, even more, enjoy our children playing?

They’re worth so much.

Perhaps that’s where we’ve lost out, we don’t “stop and smell the roses” as they say. (I’ve never been able to work out who says that since, personally, I always stop to smell the roses. Mind you, that has led to the odd interesting encounter with a bee here and there.)

There’s something else they don’t tell us before we become parents.

We have to teach our children how to play.

I don’t mean stacking blocks and rolling balls since we do that anyway. It’s the playground, run-around-screaming-to-express-yourself kind of play we need to teach them.

How to climb trees and swing from branches. How to get the biggest splash from the puddle. How to slide down that chute at maximum speed without getting caught on something. (Note to Other Half – take your wallet chain off before you try that again.)

I know this is teaching them about important things like assessing the risks and identifying safe practices before they do something. Or making sure they know to take turns and share, and how to be considerate about others.

But there is something they seem to understand naturally and that’s living in the moment. To live in the moment, enjoying the experience fully, rather than waste it anticipating the next thing that’s going to happen. Taking those few precious moments to stop thinking about the future.

Thinking about it, perhaps they’re the ones that need to teach us.

Ten Step Guide to… Christmas

What's normal when kids help decorate trees?

What’s normal when kids help decorate trees?

Well, it had to be done. Everyone else is obsessing about Christmas and we can’t be left out here. So, here it is, the guide to Christmas for all those parents with small children.

Step 1 Talk to your children about the spirit of Christmas, how it’s all about the giving and ask them to think about what they would like to ask Santa for. Wait several minutes (or hours depending on the mobility of your child) to receive your copy of the biggest shopping catalogue you have ever seen, neatly colour coded with page markers.

Step 2 After organising a loan from your bank, start buying the presents, secreting them in secure locations around the house. Conduct surveillance on your children to determine the risk of finding the presents. Once you have assessed the impact on your stress levels give in and ask your neighbour to keep the presents in their garden shed.

Step 3 Spend two hours rooting through the items in the loft to find the Christmas tree and the set of lights that actually worked last year. Test the lights and decide to buy a new set when they refuse to work this year. Test the new lights, then spend twenty minutes working out which bulb needs tightening properly to make them all work.

Step 4 Assemble the tree, ensuring you have selected the ideal spot in terms of safety and lack of accessibility for small children. Move the tree two minutes later, having removed the baby from the lower branches first.

Step 5 Decorate the tree with the aid of your children, disguising the fact that you are redistributing almost all of the decorations they have hung on a single branch as best you can. Move the lower three rows of decorations to the top of the tree when you find the baby has decided to try and eat the shiny shinies.

Step 6 Wait until the children have gone to bed and are asleep before you start wrapping their presents. Ensure you have a large sheet ready to throw over the unwrapped presents in the event one of your children suddenly decides to wake up since they have left something really, really important downstairs that they must have in order to sleep that night. This will be the one occasion when they are unlikely to sound like a herd of line dancing elephants on their way down the stairs.

Step 7 Assess the pile of wrapped presents and spend some time wondering how they can have increased in mass thanks to a single coating of paper. Place the presents in twice as many bin bags as you needed previously and stumble up the garden in the dark to deposit the presents in the neighbour’s shed again. Discover that you forgot to change your slippers and that they are not impervious to mud and water (at least you hope it’s that rather than something you heard the foxes fighting over earlier).

Step 8 Go to bed at approximately 3 am Christmas morning, having finally assembled and wrapped the toy kitchen (the one that looked so easy to put together in the instructions, which incidentally failed to mention you would need 3 hours and a masters in carpentry to make it look like the picture). Finally drop off to sleep with the fond prayer that your children might forget that today is a Special Day.

Step 9 Wake up 10 seconds later to the sounds of a small child squealing excitedly as he bounces up and down on your stomach demanding to know if Santa has been. Briefly consider trying to persuade him that it’s not morning yet and they should go back to sleep, rejecting the concept as entirely implausible. It’s Christmas Day not April Fools. Remember that your slippers are still damp from your journey up the garden path as you put warm feet into wet… something. Accompany your insanely excited child downstairs to officially start Christmas Day.

Step 10 Put on a large pot of coffee to help sustain you through the day ahead and surrender yourself to the fact that your day will be punctuated by the verbal input from small children. This is likely to vary in tone from excitement to frustration and anger. Add some brandy to the coffee. Or, since it’s Christmas, some Baileys.

Christmas Bonus – at the end of the day, when the children have succumbed to gastronomic and play exhaustion, console yourself with a nice glass of egg nog or spirit of choice, ignoring the scatter of small toy parts that pepper the floor like caltrops for the unwary foot soldier. And remember, tomorrow is all about left overs. Left over food, left over presents and left over arguments but not left over chocolate, since you’ll be eating that now.

A – Z of Christmas… Part 2

Motormouth loves his Christmas tree.

Motormouth loves his Christmas tree.

N is for Noise – from dawn chorus to eventual collapse. Without a break.

O is for oohs and aahs – when you decide to do the family thing and take them to the local road that does the lights for charity and before you start fending off questions about why your lights aren’t in the shape of a robot or giant pig. Or why your lights aren’t on the roof of the house at all.

P is for Please – please be quiet, please sit down, please be patient… you get the idea. It is not unusual for this word to have less power than normal. This effect is passed on to any word that is paired with it.

Q is for Quiet – during the Queen’s speech or the Christmas Special. You might as well record them and watch them later. It helps to stay off Facebook so you don’t see everyone raving about the cliffhanger. Or should be the cliffhung?

R is for Relatives – it’s nice to see them arrive and sometimes it’s nice to see them… well, it will have been a long day by then. For everyone.

S is for Sweets – and the calories that don’t count as you swipe one of them, just to keep you going as you rush from one task to another. After all, what would happen if you fainted from low blood sugar or plain old hunger? It’s your duty.

T is for Toys – and the sudden realisation that you need to find room for all the new ones. Somewhere. And maybe release some of the old ones back into the wild. If you can do that without getting caught.

U is for Untidiness – a wide broom helps to keep major routes open, and it’s probably best to subscribe to the “snowplough principle” and just shove everything to the sides, at least for the duration of the holiday period.

V is for Vodka or other tipple of choice – appropriate use is not only helpful it is a vital tool in maintaining your sanity. And quite possibly, relationship.

W is for Wrapping Paper – the reams you will use and be used by and the fun of trying to stuff it all into a recycling bag, and get it to stay there despite the best efforts of physics and small children.

X is for Xmas Pudding – and the need to explain to small children why it is all right, just this once, to set light to something inside the house. It is tradition after all.

Y is for Yelling – that background noise of sibling arguments that sets the tone for any family Christmas.

Z is for Zees – the half hour you hope to catch between finishing the wrapping and the Dawn Chorus.

 

Baby’s Guide to Christmas

 

What's next to eat?

What’s next to eat?

Welcome to the latest Baby Guide and today, we’ll be talking about Christmas.

This is one of those events that comes once a year and at the beginning it’s huge for you, but you won’t really be interested much. As you get older, it will become a bigger and bigger event for you until you get old. Then you’ll console yourself with the fact that it’s all about the children anyway.

So, do you want some more detail? Yes? Here goes…

Food - There will be food around. Large amounts of food, and a lot of it might look quite odd to you. You won’t be allowed to eat all of it, but if you can, go for the crunchy things or the sweet things. Or anything you can really. The grown ups around you will be eating a lot more than they would usually do so you should have some good opportunities to “liberate” some samples from their plates. Try to avoid the “fairy cabbages” and “ghost trees”. They’re just Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with fancy names and you’re not fooled that easily are you? Feel free to make your feelings known in an appropriate way if they don’t include you in the bounty and offer you your normal boring food instead.

Decorations – Things that dangle and spin – heaven. And shiny things as well! Decorations are all about glitter and sparkle and your adults will be making the most of this. Many of these dangly things will be out of reach, they hang them from the ceiling for some strange reason, but there is one playground you can’t not explore. This is the time of year that they bring a whole tree inside and plant it! Odd, I know, but since they then hang lots of toys from the branches who are we to complain? The toys come in all shapes and sizes – shiny balls, sparkly spiky things, sometimes even cuddly toys. Take the opportunity to play with them while you can since you may find the tree mysteriously grows over night and the dangly toys get higher and higher until they are at the ceiling as well. But shiny dangly things! Can it get any better?

Presents – Yes it can. Adults have a habit of putting wonderful boxes wrapped in bright, crinkly paper under the tree just for you. These boxes are amazing. You can climb in and out of them, push them around the room, sit in them, pop up and play peekaboo, even go to sleep in them if you want. For those who are feeling less energetic, there is the paper. Crinkling it and rolling it can be fun. So can tearing it up into tiny pieces and dropping them in random patterns on the floor (all the better if you can get them in accessible places). Don’t forget to push the contents of the boxes out of the way to give yourself enough space to play properly.

Family – You are used to a few adults being around you, in fact you never seem to get any alone time. You will find there are more of them about over the holiday period. They will be noisy, have big feet and want to cuddle you a lot. Play along if you want, but don’t forget you have the option of rejecting these advances, especially the kisses from people who have an awful lot of hair growing out of funny places on their faces. Adopt the usual tactics for this, but remember the projectile reintroduction of your last meal to the outside world should be your last option. Oh, almost forgot, the adults are unlikely to be wearing their normal clothes, they could have something on that they really, really want to keep clean (there are opportunities here as always) or they will have sprouted giant animals on their chests. These animals may or may not have noses that can be pulled. If they have, pull away.

Dress – Ah, your apparel. As you have no control over what they put on you, you may find yourself in a variety of interesting costumes. Despite your initial misgivings, you can still have fun whilst dressed as a Christmas pudding. I’m not so sure about the reindeer though, you might just get fed on carrots. If you dislike your costume then adopt the standard procedure, remove the offending items and keep doing so until your adults give in and dress you in something more in keeping with your status.

Santa – There is a big scary man in a red suit. You may not be able to see much of his face thanks to him wearing most of his hair on it. This could be why you might find him scary. Remember, you do not have to have close contact with him unless you wish to, standard protocols in this case are similar to those relating to unwanted attention from family, except you may want to escalate to the nuclear option sooner. There is one thing to bear in mind; the man in the red suit may have more boxes for you. Only you can decide if it’s worth it.

Siblings – Older siblings may appear to have gone insane. They will be quivering with excitement that will only increase as the Big Day grows near. They will wake up uncomfortably early, for your adults at least, and want to play noisily, unwrapping boxes with wild abandon. You have some good opportunities here. For some unfathomable reason they will be interested in the contents of the boxes not the boxes themselves. I know, weird! But still, it leaves the way open for you to have more boxes. And more boxes are good. The rest of the time they will be tearing around like a Tasmanian devil, getting themselves covered in chocolate and other foodstuffs and ignoring the pleas of the adults to do things more quietly or calmly. No, I don’t know the meaning of those words either. Perhaps you only understand them when you finally get to be an adult? If your siblings are younger than you, they’ll care even less about the whole season than you will.

Toys – These are usually what’s inside the box. Some of them may be mildly interesting with flashing lights and funny noises, but boxes! Boxes!

Pets – This is a good time to feel sorry for the four legged members of the family since they are probably the only ones getting more of a raw deal than you are. They may get some treats but they are far more likely to get trodden on, sat on, shut in an empty room or made to wear even more ridiculous costumes than you. If you are feeling particularly benevolent then you might consider letting them hide in one of your boxes with you.

So, there you have it, your guide to Christmas. It’s hard to believe that all the build up, all the excitement is for just one day, but hey, at least you get some boxes out of it.

A – Z of Christmas… Part 1

Yes, that is a seahorse hanging on our tree.

Yes, that is a seahorse hanging on our tree.

A is for Aaarggh – and all those little essentials you’ve forgotten to get to tide you over the Christmas period – like tape. And nappies.

B is for Boxes – which are everywhere, but at least they’ll keep the kids occupied. Longer than than the toys, in fact.

C is for Construction – and those hours you will spend wishing you had a smaller screwdriver, and smaller fingers (and a smaller nozzle on your vacuum cleaner) as you attempt to assemble, catch, retrieve and reassemble. Why do children’s toys have so many small parts again?

D is for Dawn Chorus – not the tuneful twitterings of our feathered friends, but the raucous “can we get up yet” of the annual native Nocturnal Toddler.

E is for Excitement – all month (theirs not yours). Your excitement is confined to the idea of a glass of your favourite tipple at the end of Christmas Day.

F is for Food – the frantic balancing act of nutrition versus empty calories that becomes so much more challenging with your toddler on Christmas Day. And no, calling Brussels sprouts fairy cabbages does not make them any more edible.

G is for Grandparents – who suddenly forget how small your living room really is when they buy them three huge toys in even bigger boxes, all of which HAVE to be available to play with at the same time.

H is for Help – that heartfelt cry that never quite gets heard, or if it is, has something lost in translation like “Thank you so much for making sure I have all the washing up in one place.”

I is for Imagination – that children have so much of most of the time, but so little of when you try to persuade them that the home made version of the toy of the year is just as good, and it really isn’t your fault they didn’t have any left in the shops.

J is for Jelly – and ice cream and cake and chocolate and crisps and “why can’t I have all that before dinner mummy, everyone else is?”

K is for Santa Klaus (I know, so shoot me for cheating!) – that mysterious figure that can either fascinate or terrify a child, and you can never quite predict which one it will be when you tell others how they will react. Tears are guaranteed though.

L is for Lights – the ones you have so carefully arranged before they end up wrapped around the cat or draped carefully over granddad who made the mistake of falling asleep in his chair. You might also want to check him for Christmas decorations.

M is for Mother – and your time honoured role, navigating through the chaos of the festive season, and the realisation that no matter how evenly you spread the parenting, a mother’s experience is unique.